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Last updated 12:07AM ET
March 9, 2021
APR News Reports
APR News Reports
Influenza Spikes In Tuscaloosa County
(APR - Alabama Public Radio ) - Currently, Alabama is one of 31 states classified as having widespread cases of influenza. Alabama Public Radio's Brett Tannehill reports the flu is spiking in Tuscaloosa County, and that created a temporary shortage of medicine used to treat and prevent the illness ...


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Students are preparing to leave for the day at Matthews Elementary in Northport ...

Kindergarten teacher LeeAnn Galloway directs traffic in the hallway outside her classroom. She's also keeping an eye out for students who might not be feeling their best.

GALLOWAY2-A lot of times when they walk in the door you can tell. Little droopy eyes, they're little personalities are not there. And of course there's always the telltale signs, the coughing the sneezing the headache the I don't feel goods this hurts that hurts.

Galloway says so far so good this flu season ... only one student has caught the flu ...

GALLOWAY1-One case so far, but today I had five absences and I haven't heard what those absences were for yet, so today may be our day.

That would be unfortunate, but not unexpected. Tuscaloosa County and many counties have been hit hard by the flu. Alabama is one of 31 states currently classified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as having widespread cases of influenza.

BOBO1-"We're seeing a lot of influenza and strep and we're prime season right now. We've been real heavy for the last two weeks and its not letting up at all"

Dr. Philip Bobo is the medical director at Emergi-Care health clinic in Tuscaloosa ...

BOBO2-12sec-We saw 1000 patients this week and about 4-500 had flu and about that many had strep, so it's kind of like an epidemic.

To make matters worse, some drug stores have been running out of the most commonly prescribed medicines for treating and preventing the flu, including TamiFlu.

BOBO4-Some leading drugstore chains called to say they would be out of TamiFlu for 10 days ... That's hard to understand. We know we're going to have flu season every Jan-Feb-March and Dec, So I would believe the supply of your stores would be of the upmost importance.

Calls to pharmacy companies CVS and WalGreen's, as well as the Alabama State Board of Pharmacy, were not returned for this report. But Rouche, the company that manufactures TamiFlu says supplies are ample this flu season. Rouche spokesperson Terry Hurley ...

HURLEY1-Pharmacists have to be on alert. If they are seeing flu in their area, they should check their inventory. And if it looks like they don't have enough TamiFlu all they have to do is call an 800 number and they can get it within 24 hours. So there's really no excuse for not having TamiFlu on the shelves.

Local drug stores and pharmacies rely on regional distributors to get medicines from the manufacturer to their shelves. State pharmacy director Charles Thomas says the supply problem in Tuscaloosa County may be a sign they were caught off guard at the sudden spike of this year's outbreak.

THOMAS1-One of them (distributor) told me they only sold about 350 doses in December and first part of January. Then all of a sudden they sold 5000 all in one week.

And because many distributors and local stores only carry expensive drugs like TamiFlu in "real time" supplies, when they run out it can sometimes take a few days to build the supply back up. TamiFlu is most effective when taken within the first 48 hours. So a temporary shortfall can leave a lot of people sicker for a longer period of time.
But since TamiFlu has a shelf life of 2-5 years, why don't all pharmacies just stock up on the drug? Again, state pharmacy director Charles Thomas ...

THOMAS3-Because they can't afford it ...

... can't afford to tie up 100s of thousand of dollars in a potentially unneeded medicine ...

...They don't how much they're going to use, they don't know when the spike is going to hit. In past years, they didn't have a spike like this.

Thomas also says the TamiFlu shortage exposes a vulnerability within the nation's distribution system that could wreak havoc in the case of a pandemic event. If a spike in illness drains local supplies in many areas at once, it could take days to restock ... days that the illness spreads deeper into the population and possibly causes other health complications for those affected.
But there is a defense in place against a pandemic event. Alabama currently has a stockpile of about 500-thousand doses of certain anti-virals that could be supplemented within 12 hours from a federal stockpile. Also, some companies that provide essential services, like power and water, have their own stockpiles. Health officials hope those medicines combined with what's already in general circulation could keep any major event under control.

fade in NS-hallway at Matthews Elementary

Meanwhile, back at Matthews Elementary, they are focusing on the basics ... frequent hand-washing, proper cough etiquette using the bend of the elbow instead of the hand, good nutrition ... and hopefully a bit of good luck.

For APR News, I'm Brett Tannehill

track the spread of influenza at this link to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention ...
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